If Walmart Inc. is in early talks to acquire Humana Inc., as reported, industry observers and consultants are spilt on the implications of their partnership.
Some see opportunities for Walmart to make a move that could blunt other major transactions and perhaps counter the potential threat from Amazon’s announced entry into health care.
Tracy Watts at Mercer noted in a blog that “as the government seeks to give states more flexibilities for [Affordable Care Act] replacement plans, the Walmart-Humana partnership could open new, cost effective opportunities especially in rural locations.”
Yet others see inherent risks if the retail behemoth enters into any complicated relationship with the Medicare-focused insurer, as the two organizations have very different corporate cultures.
Besides, it still seems murky as to how any agreement between the two organizations might unfold. Jack Hoadley, Ph.D., a research professor emeritus in Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, said, “I think it’s hard to anticipate, obviously, whether this will go through…it’s also pretty unclear, particularly with this one, what the business model will be.”
According to Robert Town, Ph.D., a national authority on health care economics and competition, there seems to be a movement to try to break health care boundaries, whether it’s Walmart and Humana, Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JP Morgan or CVS/Aetna.
For those megadeals, customer experience is the key element, says Kobie Marketing President Ingrid Lindberg. “With the [acquisition-mergers] that are happening, health plans are, for the most part, creating a place where they can have multiple new touchpoints,” she says. “If you are going to CVS, there could be ways that Aetna can interact with you that broaden your impression of Aetna beyond a claim payer and a doc cop.”
Lindberg also notes that while consumers mostly want the personal touch, consumer privacy might be a huge risk.